Why Did I Leave The Fuji System….

In the past few weeks I have receive a large amount of e-mails asking why I stopped using the Fuji X Series Cameras and rather than reply to every e-mail and to answer questions from some of my workshop delegates it seemed easier to write a blog post.

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To be honest I have kept away from the blog for a long period now as we have been concentrating on developing our wedding photography business. So please excuse the long winded article. I am not a fantastic blog writer so please bear with me. As always happy to answer any questions you may have which you can direct to me on Face Book, Twitter or indeed in the comments section of the blog.

Moving camera systems is not a decision any professional photographer takes lightly.

Once you choose a camera system for professional use the addition of lenses flash systems and spare camera bodies starts to represent a very significant investment indeed and as professionals we need to make sure we get a return on our investment as well as ensuring we have the right equipment available to do the specific job we need it to do.

Way back, I think it was in 2011 now a new camera hit the street in the shape of the Fuji x100. As a long time Leica user I had been looking for a small affordable hi quality camera to use at weddings along side my Canon DSLRs, as well as becoming my daily street photography camera. I had tried the Leica M8 as a possible candidate for this role with no success at all.

My main requirement was for a camera that was compact with a 35mm or 28mm lens of good quality and above all it needed to be responsive, with good focus and exposure control.The New Fuji X100 seemed to fit the bill so one was ordered and after some testing made its debut in my wedding camera bag. The idea was to have a small camera which would be more suitable for documentary work.

At the end of that wedding I quickly realised the X100 was not the right tool for me at weddings. It was however proving its worth for street photography. I was enjoying the size and weight of the camera ,so after a single outing it was retired from the wedding bag to find a home in my street photography bag for some time to come.

Along with a 28mm EQV convertor I enjoyed using the X100 despite it being a very slow camera in operation compared to any recent camera I had used it was nice to use in a considered way and came with us on some overseas trips as our personal camera.

The quest for a small “rangefinder type” camera continued and when the Fuji XPro-1 was released in 2012 I purchased one to try along with its initial set of three lenses.

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Whilst never a fast camera I did find it useful at weddings and it became a fixture in my camera bag. What was more interesting as a past Leica user, I found it replacing my Canons on all our foreign trips and i started to enjoy working with the limited lens range.

The XPro 1 started to see more and more use at weddings, and despite some negative comments about speed and poor AF on the internet forums, I found myself adapting my shooting style for both professional work and my own personal photography to suit the new Fuji Camera.

The regular firmware updates continued to see significant improvements in the all round performance of the XPro 1 and it became a very useable camera indeed. I was still at this time shooting weddings on the Canon system but enjoying the reduced weight of the much smaller Fuji cameras.

My suffering at the hands of the retro and very fashionable but slow X100 came to an end when it was replaced by the gift of a new X100s. This became my street photography camera of choice and the wide angle convertor never left this camera.

Things plodded along with a mix of Canon and Fuji at weddings for some and with a growing set of Fuji lenses, which are superb incidentally, my personal photography was pretty much all Fuji based as far as digital was concerned.

Then along came the Fuji XT1 a really nice little camera, and so compact you could carry a pair of them all day and not really notice the weight at all.

I very quickly got two XT1 bodies and based on the good image quality and body size and weight I used these progressively  more and more at weddings. As new Fuji lenses became available in the shape of the 23mm F1.4 and 56mm F1.2 I decided to retire my two Canon bodies and run with a Fuji only kit. This I did for well over a year.P4150030

I had issues with the Fuji cameras, but then again no camera is perfect and to be honest I became a big advocate of the Fuji system. You could say I was a bit of a fanboy in all honesty.

My biggest issues was AF consistency in low light, what seemed to me to be a very sluggish response to the shutter and the short life of the batteries, I was using between 9 and 12 batteries in a days shooting, like most things you get used to it and adapt, but the AF performance improved with some of the great Fuji software updates and the camera became comfortable. I learned to exploit its advantages, small size and low weight, and I equally worked round its disadvantages, slow AF, poor battery performance and total lack of a professional TTL flash system.

By February this year (2016) I owned four Fuji bodies and a complete set of lenses. Both Zooms and Primes. So I was in pretty deep with the system. I did however still have most of my Canons.

When I got a commission to photograph a very big two day Indian wedding, which was all to take place indoors, with very little quality light to speak of and a massive list of posed group photographs to take, I knew the Fuji would struggle to handle the flash requirement. There was no way I could use just manual or Off Camera Flash. I really did need TTL flash with some power.

So the decision was made to use the Canons for the first time in well over 12 months. The decision was made simply on the basis of faster AF in the dark working conditions and the fact I could use the Canon 580EX flash guns for two day and in was confident from past experience battery performance wouldn’t be a concern.

The Canons performed well as they always did but my neck and back was not used to carrying the weight of two pro Canon bodies with lenses and flash. At the end of day two I felt like I had run a triathlon.

Once the files from the two day shoot were going through the editing I was amazed to see in the candid images my strike rate of keepers was much higher than I had been used to and my timing seemed to have improved over night.

When I looked back over my work from the past 2 years both professional and personal I realised my strike rate had become pretty low. This was most evident in my street photography. I also realised when looking at wedding work I was not as good with my timing as I was, to be honest I had put this down to age to some degree. As we get older we loose a bit of speed.

The fact that a change of system improved my strike rate got me thinking and I started a long process of evaluating just was was wrong and what if anything could be done to improve the situation.

If I just back track two last year, I went on a street photography workshop with one the Fuji X Photographers, Kevin Mullins. I love Kevin’s work and admire his style so its was great to see how he operated.

Kevin was a big advocate of the Zone / Hyperlocal method of focusing both in his street and wedding work. As I had found the Fuji AF system pretty slow to say the least I once again started to use this system which I had used with success in my days with Leica rangefinder cameras.

The zone system uses manual focus so the fact that it does not need to focus means it must be quicker…. just like a manual camera from many years ago.

I started to use manual focus more and more in fact I found myself using more manual control with the Fuji cameras. I found they often slightly overexposed, so I started to us manual metering or dial in permanent compensation. White balance often tented to be a bit on the bluish side, so I used manual control for this as well.

My big gripe with battery life and the lack of a reliable battery meter in the camera meant I often turned off the camera in an attempt to reduce power consumption. This did mean a slow start up process and Im confident led me to miss some shots.

When I looked at how I was operating. I was using manual Focus or Zone Focus pretty much full time. I did us Back Button AF on my Fuji XT1. I was working with manual metering and manual white balance all the time. I was in effect using a fully mechanical camera and I thought to my self all the modern auto functions I have paid for are not helping me at all, in fact they are slowing me down to the point that I need to turn them off. A bit of a Eureka moment!!

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A few weeks after the Indian wedding we had a trip to Barcelona booked. It was a holiday, but city trips are always great for street photography. I had some specific art shots I wanted but nothing to demanding on equipment, and there was no pressure to produce images, so I decided to take an X100s and a single XT1 and use the cameras in full auto exposure (A) and full AF to see how they worked without too much intervention from me.

To cut a long story short. My attempts at street photography with the XT1 were very poor. The camera was very slow to respond and AF was constantly hunting and in many cases not finding its target.

The X100s was better it seemed a bit quicker in general but very soon I gave up and went back to manual focus.

When it came to static travel and architectural images the cameras were very good, I knew they would be able to handle this type of work. The problem is I love documentary photography and they were not working quickly enough to suit my style or approach.

With some time away from the office I started to evaluate were I was at with the cameras I had at my disposal for both professional work and my personal projects.

Looking back over the past couple of years  it was clear I had started to work around the limitations of my cameras and in this time my style had changed. I was taking more shots because I could carry equipment more easily and for longer, I was getting some shots because the smaller cameras were less intrusive… but the big but was my pictures were becoming more static and I was loosing the quick reactions I had always enjoyed because my cameras were basically very slow in operation compared to modern DSLR equipment.

The search needed to start for a replacement. Canon was the obvious choice. I had them. No investment was required, always good in business, and I knew they could do the job. Truth is I have never liked Canon cameras ergonomics (always a Nikon Shooter and drifted into them) and more to the point even if I did go back to Nikon the initial investment would be massive and I would be back to carrying large bags of cameras and big lenses.

So one afternoon in April I headed off to my local camera shop (Thank god they still are on the high street) and started to look at possible options.

Fuji had just released the brand new XPro 2 which many people were saying solved all of the Fuji AF and battery life issues along with being more durable and generally faster in operation. So this looked like the best solution for my needs. I had started to have some problems with bits falling off my XT1 bodies. Dials getting stiff and things just wearing out. So the idea of using all my great Fuji lenses on a new more heavy duty pro body gave me some hope. Cameras in professional use do get a lot of abuse. so this in its self is not a problem with the XT1.

I also decided to look at the offerings from Sony and Olympus. The Sony very quickly confused me and seemed strange in the hand. The Fuji XPro 2 seemed nice and comfortable but early tests in the shop left me feeling the camera was not that much faster in operation and it was still missing focus in the low shop light, which incidentally is bright compared to the average dance floor. Also the demo camera I used showed a two bar reading on the battery meter, within a few shots the camera was dead, so the battery meter was not much better either.

Once I tried the Nikon I loved everything but the weight… and cost. I knew I didn’t want to go back to a big DSLR.

So I moved on to the Olympus system, first the OND EM1 and then the OMD EM5mkII. Initial thoughts were very positive and every side by side test I made comparing the cameras to the Fuji led to the conclusion the Olympus camera were indeed better across the range of my requirements.

When I say better let me qualify and say better for my style. I had never used a Olympus digital camera before so more research was needed.

When I was back in the office I wrote down my wish list for my new ideal camera.

  1. Superb image quality at up to 3200iso
  2. Fast AF
  3. Good battery life
  4. Access to great lenses
  5. Small body and low weight
  6. Fast startup from standby
  7. Durability
  8. Good Ergonomics

A second trip to the camera shop and more handling of the Olympus cameras saw me leave with a OMD EM1 body and two pro zoom lenses. The 12-40mm F2.8 and the 40-150mm F2.8 These were to be my evaluation system and If they proved suitable tools I would consider a system swap.

At the same time I was very fortunate to have on loan a Fuji XPro 2 so some good comparisons could be made.

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What surprised me was indeed how quickly I felt at home with the Olympus system I loved the speed of the EM1. So much so that I decided that I was ready to run live at a wedding with the Olympus system in less than a week of using the system.

We had a great wedding booked at a venue I know very well and the bride and groom had given us a full “Do your thing brief” so I took the bold step and shot the entire wedding on the new Olympus with its two lenses.

I did use the Fuji XPro 2 with suitable lenses for some very wide shots along with some using my much loved 56mm F1.2 (The best Fuji lens IMO) Other than these few shots all I used was the Olympus.

When it came to the first dance I had become used to putting the Fuji into manual focus and just shooting in the old Zone style with a super wide lens for maximum depth of field.

I didn’t need to worry the Olympus was able to Auto focus in conditions the Fuji just didn’t handle at all. Interestingly all day using only one Olympus body with booster grip loaned from a friend, I only used three batteries and never once got caught out by a less than accurate power gauge.

I left that wedding feeling very happy indeed. Not once limited by my equipment and truly able to shoot how I wanted, were I wanted. I never once thought about the camera not being able to do the job. It just felt right.

Still the proof is in the images. People had warned it was hard to control depth of field on the smaller M4\3 Olympus sensor. They also warned of poor quality at high ISO.

Well final edit complete with no such worries. In fact the Olympus images were very good quality and easy to work with and integrate into my work flow. Raw files needed little work and Jpegs were indeed superb. Every bit as good as the Fuji X Trans files for what I needed them to do.

I was happy, in fact I was very happy. So much so that I quickly, in the space of a week sold all my Fuji kit and replaced it with my dream wish list Olympus kit. Even more interesting is that after less than a month using the Olympus cameras, I sold off most of my last remaining bits of Canon gear.

All the time I was  using the Fuji system I was never confident enough to sell my Canon kit. But I now know the Olympus gear will do what i need. I have faith in the durability of the cameras and I also feel confident that Olympus as a company are able to look after the needs of a professional photographer, this is something Fuji failed to do on a number of separate occasions for me.

Just before I returned my loan Fuji XPro 2 to its owner I did some final test just to make sure I was making the right move. About the same time I read a superb article again by Fuji X Photographer Kevin Mullins saying how he was now using a twin XPro 2 kit and getting great battery performance by turning off the camera.

I am no technician but I would think most electronic appliances would use less power if you turned them off…. not a massive selling point.

This article connived my my choice was the right one for me. Over the next few weeks I filled in some important lens sytem gaps and discovered the joy of the Panasonic / Leica 42.5mm F1.2 which I managed to find in perfect condition in a used camera cabinet in my local dealer.Anotherplace Study 2

I honestly love the Olympus system and now work with a pair of OMD EM5mkII bodies along with my initial OMD EM1. I have pretty much every lens I could want. Possibly I will add a 300mm F4 Zuiko at some point for personal projects and I hear a 25mm F1.2 Zuiko is on the cards. I will have my order in for that as soon as its released.

A few people have asked if there is anything I don’t like about the Olympus system. The only real gripe would be the dedicated speedlight, which is a bit slow to re charge but more importantly has such small controls my fingers struggle to operate them. Whilst I do have an Olympus flash my go to flash gun is a Metz unit it and performs perfectly, every bit as good as my old Canons.

Otherwise I am very pleased with my new system…. The icing on the cake for came when I discovered the Olympus Pen F. This camera is about the size and weight of the Fuji X100s but boasts superb auto focus and near instant start up.

I am now using the Pen F for all my street and travel photography as well as using it as a small unobtrusive documentary camera at weddings much if you remember what I initially wanted the Fuji X100 to do. I just love the Pen F and it never leaves my side now.

Since I have been using the Olympus system I seem to have re found my ability to catch the moment and I love how little I think about the operation of the camera when on shoots.

One thing I do feel strongly and in some was a little ab

angry  about is the way Fuji use the X Photographers to promote there cameras. I have never in many years in photography seen such aggressive promotion of any camera brand in the semi or pro market place and I don’t think all the stuff we read is as it first seems.

There is much smoke and mirrors in the world of camera equipment and I must admit I fell for a lot of it with Fuji. I enjoyed my time with the Fuji system, it taught me the massive advantages of using smaller cameras for documentary style work and it made me see photography in a different way.

In the end we need to find equipment we are happy with and if one particular brand of camera works for you then great go with it. However if as I did you find a specific tool is limiting your ability then don’t be afraid to look out of the box for a solution.

I must admit Olympus cameras didn’t really come onto my radar when I first stared using the Fuji system. When you think the Olympus technology in the OMD EM1 is now some three years old. It really does show how far Fuji were behind with AF technology and speed of operation when the XT1 was released.

I have struggled and allowed my camera to effect my style of working all this time and the solution was there if only I had spent more time testing cameras and not responding to hype on the internet.

With the OMD EM5 I feel I now have a small camera vastly superior in the things that are important to me than I had with the Fuji XT1. As for the Pen F well this camera suits me so much better than the Fuji X100s ever did and I hope some of its new features find their way onto the next generation of Olympus cameras.

Many of us have fallen for the retro looks of cameras and convinced ourselves slow operation is a fact of life with non DSLR cameras. Its not true. You need to test every possible option when selecting a camera and don’t just be led by public opinion and the words of pro photographers who have a vested interest in helping to sell a specific brand.

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The latest technology isn’t always the best solution and whilst equipment is never as important as the images it produces, if f you find your equipment limiting you, then move on….

As a full time working photographer I must have tools that do the job. I can within reason have any camera I want or need to do the task in hand and all our equipment is purchased with out own money. So what I hope to pass on to you here is a one hundred percent honest review of why I moved to the Smaller format system cameras and how I finally found the perfect camera for me and my style of photography.

I am not saying these small cameras are right for every job there are not. In the future I think we will see mirrorless  cameras taking over the work of DSLRs in many areas of photography.

So pleased I was an early adopter of these smaller mirrorless  cameras and I look forward to continuing the freedom they give. Now I have a system that in all honesty works just like a DSLR I see no real reason to ever consider using a “Full Frame” camera again.

I mentioned I was finding it impossible to respond quickly enough in some street and wedding situations. On my first commissioned shoot with an Olympus I was feeling more confident that i was not only capturing the moment but I had the speed and flexibility to capture candid sequences.

Just to close here is one image from a sequence taken on my first Olympus only wedding. Conditions were very dark indeed and I was shooting at my maximum preferred ISO of 3200 with auto focus and auto exposure. This was a pure reactive grab shot no time to focus or worry to much about exposure. I honestly don’t think I would have got that shot with my old Fuji XT1 others possibly would, but this entire exercise has been about finding the right tool for me and my style of working.

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Magical Marrakesh

Sunset in Marrakesh

We visited the amazing city of Marrakesh in Morocco earlier this month and spent a fantastic week roaming the street markets and historical buildings, not to mention spending a considerable amount of time enjoy the amazing food this city has to offer.

For this trip we decided to travel with the absolute minimum amount of equipment  possible and still be able to  deal with a range of visual opportunities. A single Fuji XT1 camera along with three of the superb Fuji zoom lenses covered all my needs for the entire trip. All my gear including a iPad fitted perfectly in a Think Tank Retrospective 7.

The tiny Fuji X100s also came along, as my spare camera…. truth is I never leave home without the X100s so they go on every trip.

I packed the 10-24mm along with the 18-55 and the new 55-140 lenses. All performed perfectly and the Fuji IS system proved to be a big advantage in some of the darker areas of the city. A set of lee ND Graduated filters came along but were not used and I also carried a small Gitzo tripod with a Really Right Suff BH40 Head.

Street Photography Marrakesh

This was my first real chance to fully test the new 55-140mm F2.8 lens and boy was I pleased with it. Amazing sharpness and size and weight are not a real issue when compared to one of the big 70-200mm DSLR lenses I could carry my complete kit for 12-14 hours and not even think about it.

Here is just a small selection of images from the trip. I am still working on my set of black & white images from Marrakesh and these will be released in the next few days.

Marrakesh proved to be a hard city for street photography. The locals were wanting money from you just as soon as they see a camera let alone have a picture taken. Street photography here is a challenge but at the same time offers some great rewards. I hope to make a return visit to Marrakesh at some time and will in some ways approach the street photography aspect of my next trip in a different way.

Highlights for me were the Ben Youseff museum and the Koutoubian Mosque and whilst the nightly call to prayer which was about the same time as sunset each night was a haunting sound it is one of the many great memories I will take from this great trip. The fondest memory though must be enjoying a meal on a rooftop terrace and photographing the last glimmer of evening sunlight catch the High Atlas Mountains.

Marrakesh Morocco High Atlas Mountains

I hope you enjoy these images from our latest trip.

 

 

The Great Orme Collection

A small collection of limited edition fine art images taken on, or around the Great Orme in Llandudno North Wales. This is a stunning area of coastline and my recent visit delivered some very dramatic skies which contributed to some images I am personally very pleased with.

This collection would be a perfect compliment to my “Shifting Sands” prints taken in Morecambe earlier this year. As always feel free to call or e-mail me if you would like to purchase these or any other images from my collections.

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Latest Prints

Today I have released two new prints in my “Natural Form Collection” both are available as limited editions of 25 hand printed 10″x 10″ fine art prints.

Please contact me for more information at info@steveashtonphotography.co.uk

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Pinhole Photography

Pinhole Camera Zero Image 2000

Yes this really is a camera!!

In these days of digital cameras costing many thousands of pounds, its hard to believe this small wooden box with its rudimentary brass fittings is a camera that is still used today and in fact a camera that is capable of producing superb images which can’t be made on a computer and images which are very much in demand by fine art buyers across the world.

Let me introduce one of my most loved cameras, the Zero Image 2000, a wooded pinhole camera, which takes 120 film and cost me just £40.00 on ebay. These cameras are still produced today by the Zero Image Company in Hong Kong . The company do in fact produce a few different types of pinhole cameras all of which are superbly made and will give many years of service. They are not cheap if you buy them new, but the love and skill invested in the making of each one of these cameras  leaps out at you as soon as you open the box.

So what is a pinhole camera? Its about as simple as a camera can be, in fact the very first cameras ever made worked on the same principal and most of you will have made and used one of these cameras in school physics lessons.

In simple terms the camera is a light tight box with a roll or sheet of photographic film at one end and a tiny (pinhole) at the other. When the film is exposed to light coming through the pinhole a picture is recorded. Told you it was simple. If you click on this LINK  it will take you to a detailed explanation of just how these amazing things work and a bit about there history.

Over the years I have used a number of brands of pinhole camera and whilst in the main I use the Zero Image, I also have a Noon 6×6 wooden camera and a 5×4 Noon which enables me to take individual images on single sheets of 5×4 film. This is great if I need to change from colour to mono of require a film of a different iso to help cope with specific lighting conditions.

As you can see in the picture below, the noon has the simplest of shutters you simply slide the cover out of the path of light and expose the pinhole. The Noon cameras are often seen on eBay and the most I have ever paid has been £40.00 so getting started in pinhole photography can be really low cost.

Noon Pinhole Camera

I have always had an interest in pinhole cameras and this type of Lo Tec photography, however it was only about 5 years ago that I started to make regular pinhole images and as my collection of images grew I started to look at the possibility of including these with other fine art prints I sell.

A Yorkshire based photographer Steve Gosling published a book ” Lensless Landscapes” back in 2009 I think and it was this book and Steve’s work in general that inspired me to experiment further with these film based techniques. I would advise any photographer, keen on trying this type of photography to look up Steve’s amazing images and get a copy of his book if you can.

Using a pinhole camera is very simple, In most cases the camera will be mounted on a tripod loaded with a good film, I tend to use Ilford Pan F which is a slow speed 50iso film, exposure is calculated based on a small chart or calculator fixed to the back of the camera. Firstly you get a base exposure using simple exposure meter or even your normal DSLR will meter the scene for you until you get a proper meter. Once you have this base exposure. you simply compare the shutter speed and iso combination up on the cameras exposure calculator and read off the required exposure time. The calculator is a very simple and reliable war to work out pinhole exposures

Pinhole Photograph

Both colour and black and white print film has a massive latitude in terms of exposure, therefore  getting a printable image is not really very difficult. To be honest many of my most successful pinhole images have been made more by accident than invention when it comes to exposure. Often I tend to bracket my exposure which gives me a few options when I come to make prints in the dark room. with exposure times on these images being so long things often happen during the exposure which effect the final image in ways you would never predict.

Pinhole cameras do not need to be focused, the pinhole, which is often made is a sheet of brass in order to give a sharp and clean edge, produces a very wide depth of focus so pretty much anything you point the camera at will be sharp to some extent. Be warned however pinhole photography is not for people obsessed with sharpness, this is another one of the things I like so much about this style of photography

Zero Image 2000 Pinhole Photograph

Talking about pointing the camera, as you will see from the picture of the Zero Image camera there is no viewfinder. These cameras are simply pointed in the general direction of your subject. On the Zero Image 2000 above, a angle of view close to a 20mm lens on a full frame camera is produced. The wide angle of view along with expansive depth of focus make the cameras very fluid and dynamic in use. I simply find a subject and point the camera at it. After a short time using a camera like this you start to very accurately estimate both the angle of view and exposure.

Speaking of exposure, as I mentioned i often use 50iso film which is very slow, this gives me the long exposure times I like to use for my images. The small pinhole aperture combined with this slow film often give exposure time which run into hours!! We are not talking of cameras designed to be used in a hurry.

Its also worth mentioning, given the very long exposure times when making pinhole images, you really do need good solid tripod.

For me one of the greatest pleasures of pinhole photography is the slow pace. Once the exposure is started I can relax enjoy the world around me and contemplate many things, most often my next image.

If you do purchase a Zero Image camera they come complete with an exposure calculator and a plastic handheld viewfinder which makes it easier to get started and they can be purchased from a supplier I have used for many years Silver Print a London retailer well known as a supplier of all things “Film” they are great guys as very willingly offer help and advice to new and established film photographers.

Also don’t forget I do my own photography workshops and on my courses you are welcome to use one of my own pinhole cameras and really get a hands on taste for this type of work.

Chasing Waves 1 Mono

Finally there is another aspect of pinhole photography that I do use for some images, that is digital pinhole photography. My first foray into making images with a digital pinhole camera was made using a cheap body cap conversion were I took a Nikon body cap and drilled out a hole ably 0.5cm in diameter. Into this hole I fitted a small copper plate with a tiny pinhole drilled into it. I do use digital capture at times it gives a very specific effect and due to the ability to shoot at high iso, I am able to capture pinhole images at much shorter exposure times.

These little digital pinhole conversions are very easy to make or can be found online for a few pounds and are well worth trying for some projects, they can be a lot of fun!

The final picture in this article was taken on a digital Nikon camera body on the beach at Saltburn By The Sea. It would not have been possible with film based pinhole photography. The other pictures of the boats were taken using a Zero Image 2000.

As always please feel free to ask me any questions and I love to read your comments. Most of all I hope you try some of these old style cameras. You photography will improve for sure and in an age were most photographers are making pictures on cameras that are way to complicated and to some extent detract from the image making process. Pinhole cameras by there very natural simplicity, encourage creativity every time you take them out of the bag.

 

Street Photography & The Fuji XT1

Street Photography People Lancashire

I planned a visit to Southport in Lancashire to coincide with the Orange Order street parade. These events are always good for street photography.

For those of you new to my work, street photography is a personal passion, I am a people watching addict and I love the fact that when out on the streets I have no commercial pressure at all. These pictures are for me and me. The pleasure of just roaming the streets, documenting what people do in there daily life fascinates me and despite often taking me to busy and sometime shall we say less desirable places, I find street photography very relaxing and therapeutic.

Street Photography

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Street Photography

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Street Photography People Lancashire

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Fuji XT1 Street Photography

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Fuji XT1 Street Documentary Photography

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Holga 120 Film Cameras

Holga 120 Camera

Since launching the my new web site a few weeks ago, I have received a lot e-mails asking for information on some of the more unusual cameras I use for both my personal and professional  work, So over the next few posts I hope to give you some information on what I use and hopefully encourage you to get out there and try some alternative and fascinating methods of creating photographic art.

Please understand I do use all types and formats of cameras, I love photography not just digital photography, for me film will always have a place in my heart. In much the same way, I like many others still love to play records rather than listen to music on their iPod, film photography provides my with a more tactile photographic experience than digital photography ever will. Its a very personal thing but for me film just provides a pleasure and satisfaction I don’t get from digital photography.

I was trained to use film and I find a certain degree of nostalgia when I use old camera… thats one reason why I still use film, I simply enjoy the feel and the smell of the entire process. However for me the look and feel I can create with very simple and cheap film cameras is not one I have been able to replicate in the digital darkroom.

Another reason and possibly from a fine art photographers perspective, is when I use film I have more of a connection with the images I produce, they feel real to me.  Like I said its a personal thing and it won’t be for everyone. I make no bones about the fact that working with a conventional film workflow in this digital age is not without its problems. not least finding supplies of film and the cost of not only the film but also developing your resulting images can be restrictive.

Daniel Libeskind Study 1

One thing for certain I promise, you will take less pictures when you use film!! That in its self I feel is a good thing and you photographic vision will improve. Don’t believe me, if you have a digital camera. Tape over the LCD screen and limit yourself to 36 pictures on your card or even better try a limit of 12 shots….. its hard but you will find you consider each picture, you will remember the experience of making that picture and you will have a ownership of each frame that you never get in the digital machine gum world. Most modern photographers spend far to much time looking at images on the backs of their cameras. This is all time better spent observing your chosen subject.

So what cameras do I use for film? Firstly and the subject of this blog article, is the Plastic Holga. I use the 120GN model which takes 12 pictures on a roll of 120 film. Not much can be said about these cameras. They are like a trip down memory lane, you focus by a little diagram Mountain for long shot, head and shoulders for close up shots. Exposure is cloudy or sunny symbols and thats pretty much it.

Its worth mentioning that while the Holga can be used on a tripod, I never do mount them on tripods, preferring to enjoy the lightness and flexibility when working with these specific cameras.

SO whats the big deal about these cameras. In simple terms they are so bad they are amazing!!! The plastic lens is of such poor quality light goes in all directions, sharpness is non existent in most cases, but the resulting images have a look and feel that no other camera really can produce.

Daniel Libeskind Study 7

I simply love the softness of Holga images and I am so obsessed  with the look of Holga pictures, I even take the lenses out of the cameras which are about £10 each!! and stick them on other cameras. You could say the Holga was the camera that I used to re invent myself as a photographer. After a number of years working just in a digital workflow, I was loosing interest in photography, I missed the film process and needed to go back to my roots. The low cost of the Holga’s made it easy justify shooting some film again.

So e-bay was the source of my first Holga’s and I still find plenty on there today, they are easy to obtain. I carry two Holga 120’s with me on all trips. The first is loaded with 400TX black and white film. The second will be loaded with Kodak 400ISO colour negative film. You need to experiment with different films, they each have there own look and feel, which has an obvious effect on the finished image.

Each of my cameras is loaded and the back is sealed with black tape, the reduces some of the built in light leaks!! Thats it, with camera loaded and sealed I have 12 shots to capture the images I want before I need to re open and load the camera again.

Photography really can’t get much more simple than this. Just select cloudy or sunny on the lens and away you go. In most cases the wide exposure latitude of film will ensure you get great results easily and quickly. I find the Holga’s to be perfect for my work, they suit my style and the way I see the world. They are fantastic for landscape and architectural work as well as being very capable portrait tools.

So pop over to e-bay and get your camera ordered or you could try Hoga Direct ( these things have a bit of a cult following now) Then you will need some film and I get mine from Silverprint who also supply all my film developing chemicals & equipment, but more of that later. I try to get either Kodak TX400 or Ilford HP5 for my Holga’s 400iso film seems to just work the best for me.

Daniel Libeskind Study 3

The first challenge facing you with your new camera will be loading the film… rather than try and explain the process I found this simple video on You tube take a look here, this guy explains the process really well.

Once you have film in your camera just go out and make some pictures. I will explain how to develop your films in a later blog article but if you can’t wait, Peak Imaging will do it for you, its just not as much fun as doing it yourself.

All the black and white images in this article were made on Kodak film developed by Peak Imaging. They are part of a limited edition set I made as part of a long term project documenting the Imperial War Museum in Manchester. Peak images will also scan your negatives and then you can work on them in Photoshop just like any digital file or like me you can have hand made prints crafted in the darkroom.

One concept behind This project was to make fine art images as cheaply as possible and the Holga camera a few rolls of film and standard photo lab film processing is as simple as you can get. The resulting developed negatives are later scanned and can then be worked in the same was as any digital image… the best thing is though you can get real rents made directly from the negatives. This is when film photography really starts to become interesting.

There is also one other Holga camera I simply love to use, its the equally simple but slightly more expensive Holga 120 Panoramic camera. These strange plastic contraptions sell for around £70 in the UK. Again I tend to find mine on eBay and the capture very impressive 12×6 inch negatives. The panoramic letterbox format is not the simplest to use and composition takes some practice, but results can be amazing. If you do get into the whole Holga film thing and happen to stumble across a 120 Panoramic it is well worth considering, the camera can put some stunning creative possibilities within your reach.

Just one thing before I close this blog article. This is in no way a film is better than digital debate. I use both its just that I personally enjoy film photography, it gives me more pleasure.

If you have any questions I will be more than happy to help, just drop me an e-mail.

 

 

The Intimate Landscape

From The Lake

I love to search out and photograph small elements to be found within the wider landscape and this image ” From The Lake” is  typical  of my preferred style of minimalist landscape photography. This style of photography is often referred to as the intimate Landscape.

The composition was made on the shores of Derwentwater in the Lake District and whilst the wider scene of the lake and mountains is without doubt stunning to say the least, the smaller details have there own story to tell and this is what interest me much more.

From a technical perspective the images was made on a Canon 5DmkII camera with a moderate telephoto (85mm) lens combined with a Lee Filters Little Stopper 6 Stop ND Filter and a very study tripod. The filter enabled me to increase my exposure time and render the water as a complete abstract, and so concentrate the viewers eye on the main subject.

All in all not a difficult image to make, but one which required a certain vision as to  what I wanted the finished image to represent.

 

 

Shifting Sands Of Morecambe Bay

 

 

Shifting Sands Study 1

Recently I decided to spend the afternoon in Morecambe and timed my visit to arrive as the tide was receding. The sands of Morecambe Bay can produce some stunning patterns and interesting light and these patterns constantly change with each tide, preventing a vast range potential images.

To make the idea work I needed a bold strong sky, as my intention was to produce a dramatic black and white print, and on this particular trip all the ingredients came together and I managed three compositions I was happy with.

All the images were made with my Fuji X100s camera with its standard 23mm lens. Initial post production as always was in Irident Developer, which I am finding provides me with the best starting point with the Fuji RAW files.

Its worth mentioning no filtration was used in this image. The amazing Fuji sensor with its fantastic dynamic range its perfect for this type of landscape image.

The final limited edition of only ten platinum / palladium  hand made prints are selling well. The other images in this series can be found in my latest work section here

 

 

The Fuji X Series in Dubrovnik

Black Sky & Tower-110

 

Be honest, how many of you have spent hours deciding which cameras and lenses to take on the next photography trip. Or which tripod you can firstly manage  to carry on the plane but at the same time will provide the support you heavy camera needs. Here is a little background information on my conversion to the Fuji X Series cameras and a small selection of images from there first overseas trip to Dubrovnik.

Just over a year ago now I had reached the stage were I was finding it impossible to choose what equipment to take let alone carry it. My photography was suffering because the equipment was taking over. I decided the time had come in my photography career to look at ways to make photography more enjoyable again.

Having always had a love of street photography I had previously purchased a Fuji x100 camera in fact it was a very early version of the camera, and whilst no one can doubt the X100 was a design classic, for me it was very much a case of form over function. The camera just didn’t do it for me on so many levels.

My X100 was sold to help fund the purchase of a Fuji X-Pro 1 which whilst better than the X100 in some ways it was still far from perfect. My new X-Pro 1 came with me on a few trips but I never really bonded with it. The regular Canon and Hasselblad cameras were still my go to cameras of choice.

Dubrovnik Croatia

 

So were is this story going you might well ask… Well Fuji unlike many of the mainstream camera manufacturers did in fact seem to listen to their customers, they had a dedicated group of professional photographers using the X Series cameras on a daily basis and reporting back their findings.

Over a period of time software update after software update was released by Fuji and the X Series in general and my X-Pro 1 in particular became more reliable and much more useable as a professional photographic tool.

As I got more familiar with the camera I added a few new lenses to my system which at this point consisted of 18mm 35mm and 60mm Fuji lenses. In full frame camera terms this was a very usable set of prime lenses covering my  moderate wide angle, standard and short telephoto lens requirements. In fact the more I used the Fuji 35mm the more I loved it and it very quickly joined the group of all time of favourite lenses.

Lets jump on a year or so, to October of last year and a  trip I had planned for some time to the historic city of Dubrovnik. This was  a combined work and holiday trip so I needed to ensure I was able to make the most of my time from a photography perspective but at the same time not be burdened with equipment.

Black Sky & Tower-98

 

After a few failed attempts to get my Canon gear down to a weight I could get on the plane let alone carry with me for twelve hours a day on the tourist filled city streets. I made a radical decision, well at the time for me it was a radical decision. I was only going to take the Fuji kit and my smallest tripod a 3 Legged Thing “Brian” which was all that I needed for the small and very lightweight X-Pro1

So armed with a tiny Think Tank Retrospective 7 bag containing a single Fuji X-Pro1 body and 3 lenses and a few Lee filters I set off on a professional photography job for the very first time.

After 3 days on the streets of Dubrovnik and after many images made in what incidentally  really is a superb location for photography, I started to feel so comfortable with the camera and my basic set of lenses that I almost forgot the camera. It sounds a little cliche, but the camera was becoming an extension of my eye. I was starting to enjoy myself and I was finding angles and locations made possible simply because I could move easily and un observed.

Yes there were a few issues mainly caused by my lack of experience using the camera but nothing major. Exposure and focus was accurate and quick. Lens quality was superb and most of all I was enjoying taking pictures.

I was able to walk around from dawn to dusk and get into places that would have been tricky if not impossible with a big DSLR people just seemed to ignore me in much the same way they did back in my days of using Leica cameras.

City Wall Dubrovnik

Now had everything needed to replace my Canon gear for most of my personal work. I must be honest and say I do still use the Canon’s when I need perspective control lenses or fast long telephoto’s but these situations are not that common. As new lenses have been released I added the 56mm 1.2 which has pretty much replaced the 60mm Macro and I admit to lusting after the 10-24mm, the great thing is the entire system fits in a small Think Tank Airport essentials backpack and this fits easily in any aircraft overhead locker I have come across.

I kept thinking to myself whilst searching the streets and stunning architecture, these small cameras were a real and viable solution to quest for a new direction in my photography. I simply didn’t need the weight and bulk of the Canon DSLRs. Using the Fuji I would be able to concentrate on my images and not the equipment or the logistics of getting my equipment to a location.

International Street Photography

On my return home I continued to enjoy working on my images from Dubrovnik. I looked at various software solutions and how they effected the RAW files I was working with, but interestingly I had also shot Jpeg’s as well and I was finding these to be very good, indeed better than good, almost to the point that in most cases I was using the Jpeg as my master file.

The files from the Fuji X series cameras really are superb. There was not one image that I felt would have been better had it been taken on the Canon cameras. One of the few things I missed was a lens wider than the 18mm (28mm in full frame terms) so as soon as possible I placed and order for the Fuji 14mm F2.8 (21mm Equiv) and I also splashed out on the stunning new 23mmF1.4 (35mm Equiv). All I needed now was a decent telephoto which I found in the 55-200mm Fuji zoom which has proved a valuable addition to my kit. The ongoing Fuji lens promotions have been a big help in completing my kit.

Recently I needed to replace a damaged Canon 5D mKII and as the new Fuji XT1 had just been released the choice was made to go with the new Fuji. The XT1 has in fact become my main camera on not only my personal fine art projects but also most of my people based commercial photography.

Dubrovnik Skyline

So there you have a brief history of my move over to the world of the mirror less camera. I also now own a new Fuji x100s which has become my street photography and documentary camera its so much better than the original x100 its like chalk and cheese, I love my X100s and simple take it with me every time I go out.

Yes I still own and use a Phase One medium format system for commercial work and times when I need absolute quality or simply because I want to slow down the entire photographic process. There are times with commercial work were the need for camera movements mean the only way to get the job done is to use a technical camera however more and more the Fuji cameras are my tool of choice these days. My images have improved I enjoy my personal photography again oh and I forget to mention my back feels much better these days!!.